Committed to conquering chronic pain

CaSe STudy

The Pain Foundation supports gifted and world-renowned doctors, scientists and clinicians in exploring and unravelling the science and management of pain

Chronic pain is a major and increasing public health issue affecting one in five people in Australia. Chronic pain reduces the quality of life and can cause disability and mental health problems.

It also causes loss of productivity, with work absences, unemployment and early retirement. There also tends to be a reliance on opioids, other medications and/or alcohol to help people cope with their pain in the absence of non-pharmacological options.

The Pain Foundation supports gifted and world-renowned doctors, scientists and clinicians in exploring and unravelling the science and management of pain. Applying knowledge in practical ways frees sufferers from the debilitating and devastating experience of chronic pain and the associated depression and anxiety it can cause.

As a result, the Pain Foundation’s objective of the Digital Pain Education Project supported by HM1 funding is to improve the knowledge, confidence and skills of healthcare professionals in best practice pain care (aligned to a biopsychosocial approach), to help improve consumers’ quality of life, reduce disability, reduce mental health problems associated with chronic pain, improve productivity and reduce healthcare utilisation (e.g., Emergency Department presentations and GP visits).

Professor Michael Nicholas from the Pain Management Research Institute, University of Sydney is leading a national consortium to create an interdisciplinary digital pain education program to support the emerging, current and future health workforce, as well as improve the lives of patients with chronic pain. The purpose of the program is to develop a nationally consistent and integrated approach to the management of people with chronic pain.

To date, a patient care priorities framework has been developed to help shape the program. The Pain Foundation published a peer-reviewed paper about the framework in PAIN, the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP), a leading journal devoted to pain medicine and research.

This article has won an award (Editor’s Choice) and is ranked in the 97th percentile of articles of a similar age in all journals.

Listen to me, learn from me

The Pain Foundation has also created the Listen to me, learn from me program which they believe has the potential to enhance the overall healthcare experience, as well as improve healthcare professionals’ understanding of the roles and importance of other professional disciplines (i.e., interdisciplinary care).

The program has the potential to:

  • change healthcare professionals’ attitudes towards people living with chronic pain (e.g., understanding the whole person and validating people’s experience).
  • decrease the physical, psychological and social impact of living with chronic pain (e.g., decrease social isolation by increasing engagement in activities and work).
  • improve community attitudes (e.g., change attitudes towards medications/opioids, and increase awareness of self-management and psychological and social strategies).
  • decrease the high economic burden of chronic pain in Australia by improving overall quality of life, productivity, and reduced healthcare utilisation costs (e.g., ED presentations and GP visits).
A recent report by Deloitte estimated chronic pain to cost $139 billion per year, predominantly through reduced quality of life and productivity losses, and these costs are increasing.

In April 2023, the Pain Foundation also appeared at the Australian Pain Society (APS) annual conference to discuss the interdisciplinary digital pain education which had high engagement from the audience of health care professionals, researchers, government decision-makers and consumers. The topical session described the framework of patient pain care priorities, the architecture of the pain management education, and how patient stories are threaded through the e-learning modules as a vehicle to drive engagement and resonate with real world clinical experience. The President (Dr K. Davis) of the Faculty of Pain Medicine attended the presentation at the Australian Pain Society conference and expressed his strong support for the project on behalf of the Faculty.

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) annual conference topical workshop in Toronto in September 2022 was very well-received. The workshop described the framework of consumer pain care priorities and our interdisciplinary health professional pain management education modules that we are currently developing.

The Pain Foundation’s Digital Pain Education Project has successfully increased the capacity of researchers at the University of Sydney and Curtin University. These researchers are involved with both developing eLearning training programs and in implementing and evaluating these programs.

The impact factors discussed in this article will be tested in an evaluation after the project is completed (July 2024 onwards). Following the evaluation, The Digital Pain Education Project has the potential to impact decisions related to workforce, healthcare, community, and future research investment.